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From Ashoka to Gupta 3rd century BCE to
5th century CE
Once Siddhartha (or the Gautama Buddha)
gained enlightenment, he began to preach
The holy eight fold path: right views, right intentions,
right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort,
right mindfulness and right concentration.
Four Holy Truths: all existence is suffering, all suffering and
rebirth are caused by man’s selfish craving, Nirvana, freedom from
suffering, comes from cessation of all craving, and fourth, the
stopping of all ill and craving comes only from following the Eight
Fold Path.
These are the way of the Buddha, the way of Enlightenment.
One reason I’ve
directed you to the
time-line on the
MET website is so
you can compare
events, styles and
cultures across the
Silk Road.
Life of the Historic Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama
Mauryan Empire 323-185 BCE
third Mauryan Emperor-Ashoka, 254 BCE began
building monumental edicts on Buddhism carved
into pillars, rocks and caves, and is credited with
building 84,000 stupas to enshrine the holy relics
(ashes) of the Buddha and commemorate the
important events of the historic Buddha.
Contemporary:: Classical Greece (Plato, Socrates) In
China (Confucius, Laozi)
Kushan Empire 100 BCE-200 CE
importance of Silk Road, Gandaharan region
multiethnic, tolerance, flourishing of art and
Conquered by Alexander the Great
Gupta Period 300-500 CE
sometimes referred to as a Golden Age, witnessed the
creation of an "ideal image" of the Buddha.
Corresponds with Constantine in Rome
The Kushan Empire originally formed in the 1st century CE in the
territories of ancient Bactria on either side of the middle course of the
Oxus River in what is now northern Afghanistan, and southern Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan.
The kings of Kushan had diplomatic contacts with Rome, Persia and Han
China. The empire declined from the 3rd century, and fell to the Gupta
Empire in the 4th.
The Gupta Empire was an Ancient Indian empire which existed
approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian
Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model
of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under
leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic
endeavors. This period is called the Golden Age of India and was marked
by extensive achievements in science, technology, engineering, art,
dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and
philosophy that crystallized the elements of what is generally known as
Hindu culture. !
The Kushan kingdom was
centered in two areas
…one around Mathura, in
the north-central India
and the other in
Capturing the ideals of
yogic control…containers
of the ‘vital breath’,
rather than replicas of the
physical body.
Buddha seated on lion throne, from Mathura,
India, second century CE. Red sandstone, 2’
3 1/2” high. Archaeological Museum, Muttra.
By contrast…
the Gandharan Buddha,
despite having many of the same
attributes---the lion throne, the yogic
posture and radiant nimbus---remains a
mixture of Roman styles. Most striking
is the toga, an inappropriate garment
for the climate of India…and the facial
features which indicate an interest in
Meditating Buddha, from Gandhara, Pakistan, second century
CE. Gray schist, 3’ 7 1/2” high. Royal Scottish Museum,
Bodhisattva, Pakistan, 2nd/3rd Century
As interest and worship of
Bodhisattvas increased, also
the idea of the Buddha as a
truly celestial figure grew.
As a result of the cosmic view of Mt.
Meru as linked with the heavens,
the appearance of the Colossal
Buddhas in India and throughout
northern countries from
Afghanistan to Japan are seen.
Bodhisattva, Kushan
The Gupta dynasty, like the Kushan and
Mauryan before, was established in Northern India.
From 320 to the 7th century remains the standard of
comparison between India and the rest of Asia.
For Buddhism, the Gupta period signaled the decline
of Buddhism in India.
Besides the monastic establishments being attacked by
marauding tribes, the more powerful, dynastically
supported Hinduism assimilated the Buddhist faith.
The Mahayana emphasis on salvation by faith had
served to bring Buddhism closer to Hinduism and the
fewer differences allowed Buddhism to be absorbed
by Hindu practices in India.
By the end of the Gupta period, most of the growth of
Buddhism was taking place outside of India.
One of two Colassal Buddha
statues characterized ancient
Bakhtria, integrating various
cultural influences into the
Gandhara school of Buddhist art.
The area contains numerous Buddhist
monastic sanctuaries, as well as
fortified edifices from the Islamic
The site is also testimony to the tragic
destruction by the Taliban of the two
standing Buddha statues, which shook
the world in March 2001.
Colossal Buddha, 5th-6th century, Afghanistan,
destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban.
Originally gilded with gold and copper masks, two colossal images from Afghanistan are
most spectacular, visible to pilgrims from miles away.
The sense of splendor was enhanced by wall paintings.
Colossal Buddha, 5th-6th century, Afghanistan, destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban.
Buddha, Yangon, China
Colossal Buddha, Myanmar, 5’3” 14
Different from that of a humble,
meditative teacher, the Buddha
had become an awesome,
transcendent vision….reflecting
the importance Mahayana
Buddhism placed on the heavenly
realm even suggesting the rewards
awaiting those who managed to be
reborn in such a paradise.
Colossal Buddha, 5th century,
Kanheri, India
The Gupta Buddha is shown in the
teaching mudra. No longer appearing
heavy like the yaksha images, this is a
person of great spiritual bearing. An
evolution from the earthly Shakyamuni to
the ethereal, spiritual figure we see here.
Attention is directed to the meaning of the
faith, instead of the person of the Buddha.
Abstracted and simplified, all extraneous details
are eliminated.
Attracted to his quiet gaze, hands and face.
Designed to go beyond the event being
portrayed, the First Sermon, to a transcendent
dimension found in Mahayana Buddhism.
Seated Buddha preaching first sermon, from Sarnath, India,
second half of fifth century. Tan sandstone, 5’ 3” high.
Archaeological Museum, Sarnath.
The early growth of Buddhism after his death in around 481 BCE was enhanced
by the Indian King Ashoka’s distribution of his ashes inside 84,000 stupas.
Two primary types of Buddhist structures:
1.  The stupa
2.  The monastery
Whatever form of the structure, Buddhist worship involves circumambulation
Stupa Reliquary, Pakistan,
2nd Century
Dating back to the 3rd century BCE, Ashoka’s
caves in Bihar include references to the earlier
wooden Buddhist building that have not
Most of the caves were monk residence halls
with individual cells and areas for instruction.
Less common were Chaityas, communal places
of worship.
Rock-Cut Sanctuaries
Early ROCK-CUT monasteries were built on a rising plateau
of mountains that run for several hundred miles along the
western side of the subcontinent.
They were constructed close enough to trade routes to attract
donations but removed enough to maintain a monastic life.
The trade routes connecting the cities of India provided many
of the locations, for Buddhism cultivated the support of
travelers and caravans, a practice that would also lead to
similar cave building along the trade routes of Central Asia.
We have already looked at
stupas at Sanchi and
Bharhut from Ashokas
One of the most complete
architectural sites from the
Gupta period is at Ajanta.
Built in a horse-shoe
shaped cliff of 29 caves, it
was occupied in the first
century BCE and again in
the 5th and 6th centuries.
Rediscovered in the early
19th century, it is being
restored and preserved.
Ajanta--29 caves in a horseshoe shape…occupied in the 1st century BC and
then again in the 5th and 6th. Discovered in the early 19th century and has been
continuously restored since then.
It contains two types of spaces:
Residence Halls—viharas
Chaityas--communal places of worship.
The chaitya hall consisted of a rounded,
closed end or apse, imitation barrel-vaulted
ceiling and rows of pillars.
The third major structure, the stupa, was added
to the chaitya hall, with space around it for
Interior (left), section (top right), and plan (bottom right) of
chaitya hall, Karle, India, ca. 100 CE.
The Chaityas halls at
Ajanta are dominated by
large, arched openings
and projecting porches.
…originally protected by
additional wooden
The have elaborate walls
crowded with Buddhas
and bodhisattvas…the
irregular positions a
function of their being
donated over time.
By the Gupta times
(4th to 7th century) a
shift to the more
transcendent Buddha
image resulted in the
lower part of the stupa
given over to this
image…merging the
Buddha and the stupa
into one unified vision.
The Gupta transcendent Buddha image resulted in the merging the Buddha and the stupa
into one unified vision.
Most of the Ajanta s caves are residence and lecture halls---they too were modified
as a result of the changes by Mahayana doctrine.
They include wall paintings of jataka tales and ceilings painted as symbols of
heavenly realms.
The bodhisattva,
Padmapani, one of
the manifestations of
Avalokitesvara, one
of the most widely
Taking either male or female form,
Padmapani embodies the compassion of
all Buddhas.
In Sanscrit Pamapani is the ‘holder of the
lotus’ or ‘lord of the world.’
In Tibetan Buddhism, Pamapani is said to be
incarnated as the Dali Lama.
Loving Couple
Nalanda and Paharpur…